When set in the light of the achievements of our ancestors in America, the condition to which our generations have brought the Republic is all the more stark; and what measure of thanksgiving we can offer as a country seems rather meager. We’re thankful for the good things we inherited and have since destroyed?
With real bite, the American patriot may ask if degringolade be his fate. He reflects on his ancestors: for them, the crown of liberty; for us, the yoke of its impending demise. From them, the hope of improvement; for us the despair of decline.
But when, in 1789, George Washington set down such a supplication as this:
I do recommend and assign [Thanksgiving] to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
-- when General Washington proclaimed these words throughout the land, he owed his place and station to the Providence of the Lord God no less than we do. That fact alone is cause for gratitude.
We who may be near to the end of this American experiment have greater reason to give thanks for its beginnings, than those who, near to its precarious origin, could not even say whether it would endure long enough to establish perennial Thanksgiving. The faithful son holds up the honorable memory of his greater fathers, all the more resolutely when his humility shows him how lesser he truly is.
Our fathers were greater than we: in wisdom, in piety, in patience, in courage, in fealty to the bonds of blood. And they gave thanks. This day is national, it is republican, it is democratic. In elegant genuineness of phrasing, as in Washington’s above, Americans set aside a day of thanksgiving. The whole general will of the American people swells with gratitude to God for “His kind care and protection of the people of this country,” before their day of dissolution.
Anyone who has attended a prayer meeting can attest to the fact that some of the most aggrieved, the most distressed, the most afflicted, articulate the most robust thanksgivings. Only the coldest heart is not moved by the gravely ill, the crippled, the bereaved, praising God for some good in another part of the life of the Body of Christ. Indeed, it is gratitude that distinguishes the whole religious orientation, and in a sense all our traditions are an expression of gratitude for things received, but unearned.
America is gravely ill, crippled, bereaved. But we can all give thanks for the many goods the Lord has bestowed.
Even in the midst of this present darkness, there is such bounty as man has never tasted; there is wonder and bliss at the natural beauty of the land, which even now lies unspoiled by the wrath of the Almighty; there is great store of knowledge, and freedom to use it to the betterment of our spiritual condition; there is yet much joy in fellowship, and peace from the strife and terror of the world outside; and though it is much faded and fills us with longing, there is the memory of our great and glorious past, a testament of what might be if we amend our ways and prevail upon the hearts of our brethren.
Remember the charge delivered by the prophet Jeremiah to people carried away from their home in bondage and humiliation:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
It is with gratitude that we pray for the welfare of our cities, our states, our nation. Above all, we give thanks for that defiance of death and darkness, that treasured-up hope of final victory, which is firm foundation of all who profess Christ crucified.